the takers

It's time to harvest the cork around here, a fascinating process of which I am admittedly no expert. The basic facts I understand center around the incredible regenerative abilities of these noble trees. You will drive anywhere here and see one after another stripped on the bottom, seemingly de-pantsed, but ready to grow again. There will usually be a number spray painted, in our case a 2, indicating the harvest year. Twelve years after that, these men will be back. And men they are. Axe slung over one arm, small ladder in the other hand, their notable dress seemingly from olden times, in the context of modern Portugal their reclined lunches in the shade looking like something rustled up by the local theater troupe for the benefit of tourists. They, known as "the takers" in Portuguese, are in fact a dying breed. Their trade, however needed, is now antiquated, more often than not will not be passed down to the generation to follow.

From tree to tree, by foot or by truck, a test whack with the axe before perfectly and precisely making a line around its circumference, no interior flesh nicked or marred. Done all by hand. Remove it like a jacket, ideally in one piece, sometimes two. Pile it in the truck, cart it off, dry it out, cash it in. The land owners profit and they get a cut. Year after year, so on and so forth, one of Portugal's remaining unique agricultural products since joining the EU. As truly beautiful as it is potentially obsolete.